Learn about Tina Sowah’s perspectives on business identity, mentorship, and diversity

Tell us about your background in 20 seconds.

I am from Ghana, mixed German and Ghanaian heritage. My upbringing was between Ghana, South Africa and the US. I went to a boarding school (Peddie) for high school, the Wellesley College for my undergraduate studies where I majored in Africana Studies and minored in Economics. After Wellesley, I worked in Boston for a year in financial services (State Street) before moving to London where I worked in the finance industry for 5 years before returning to the US for business school. Post-MBA I will be working in IB for Credit Suisse in their Power and Renewables group.

How did your minority background impact your professional identity?

Overall, I don’t think it impacted my professional identity. When I first started at State Street summer after my sophomore year, there were only five black interns out of 35 interns. 4 of us were from Wellesley – it seemed like they did all of their minority recruiting last minute and from one school which was awkward. Because I was black, I did feel like I needed to be particularly wary of the way I was presenting myself at work and to be always busy – I didn’t want to give anyone a reason to label me with any of the offensive black stereotypes, particularly “lazy”. Because the finance industry is primarily male-dominated I felt my gender played a greater role than my race. In London, my minority background didn’t impact me much since most people saw me as American, not black. In America, I am always aware of the stereotypes people have against black people and always make sure to counter those negatives in any possible way at work.

What role did the Black Community play in your professional career?

Very little. More so in America. I had difficulty developing relationships/sponsorships with senior individuals at work. Ultimately I was able to find a sponsor in one of the most senior black men at the firm and Executive Sponsor of the the Black Professional Network. He was Ghanaian and friends with an old family friend – a Ghanaian “Uncle”. Once we connected we organized regular meetings where he coached me on the different steps I need to do in order for me to reach my short and medium term goals. Ultimately, he was one of the reasons I decided to apply to business school.

What are you most proud of and how did you achieve it?

Getting into business school is definitely my biggest accomplishment to date. Before that it was successfully transitioning from the capital markets division into asset management (SSGA) in a business development role where I covered central banks, supranationals and sovereign wealth funds. I heavily networked myself into the role. I developed and leveraged relationships with senior members in the transition management business (business line that interacted most with SSGA) to help inform the decision makers with SSGA on my candidacy. My manager ultimately told me that while I wasn’t the most qualified for the role, he was new to State Street and appreciated how well networked I was within the firm and that my ambition and drive were clear from the feedback he had received, which was ultimately what he was looking for.

What role did mentorship play in your career? What advice would you give people looking for mentorship?

Huge. It wasn’t until I was desperate for a change that I began to take finding a mentor seriously. My advice would be to join different organizations at work and identify a mentor through those organizations. It allows you to develop an informal relationship first, over a shared interest, which in term strengthen the mentor-mentee relationship that will later develop. My mentors taught me how to advocate for myself and identified ways for me to increase my internal profile – ways I had not yet considered myself.

What is your advice to aspiring females in leadership roles?

Identify a mentor, identify a sponsor and if you think you deserve a raise – always ASK! Never wait for someone to give you something if you believe you deserve it base on your work product. Furthermore mentors and sponsors play a crucial role in helping you identify ways to advance your career and strengthen your profile.

Where do you wish to be in 10 years?

Power & Renewables MD at large EM-focused PE firm or VP of Corporate Strategy for large multinational energy company, Africa Region

If you could magically change one thing in your industry, what would it be?

Lack of gender-diversity and overall sexism that occurs.

What do you wish for the future of diversity and inclusion in the workplace?

Ideally, that all workplaces reflects, accepts and embraces all from of diversity; When people can bring their true selves to work, they unlock their true potential at work, unafraid to test boundaries and fuel innovation.

 

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